We have made a habit of going places others generally don’t go. Not that we don’t enjoy the hot spots, the tourist destinations, the general run of the mill, because we do, and the bulk of our travel is often to those spots.
But what really gets our hearts racing – ok, maybe mine more than Pete’s – is something out of the way, unusual or seldom seen.
For instance, one of the highlights of our touring life is a trip to Svalborg, a Norwegian archipeligo far above the Arctic Circle, where getting eaten by a polar bear was a very real possibility and we struggled to climb an enormous mountain with seemingly 12-year-old guides.
We like seeing odd things. We love going places not generally on the tourist path.
Unfortunately, sometimes there’s a reason they’re not.
Sadly, the Aeolian Islands fall into this category.
Undoubtedly scenic, lovely and beachy, but that’s pretty much all it is.
We booked a tour with all eight of us to visit Panerea, Stromboli and then hang around into the nighttime to see Stromboli (an active volcano) spark.
Panerea was kind of nice, but mostly because we found an elevated restaurant Cusiritati, that had a lovely view. Slow service, painfully slow, but good food, too. We sat there for about an hour and a half (not entirely because that was our choice) enjoying the breeze and the harbor view and the ambiance. Then we walked back down to the main part of “town” to shop a little, walk on the rocks (and marvel at people diving into the Tyrrhenian Sea from the cliffs). Some of our party found a gelato shop and enjoyed that. Then we walked back to the main part of “town” to shop a little … Oh, I repeat...but hat’s all it was.
To be fair, there is more on Panerea than that, but not reachable during a two and a half hour stop. There are Bronze age ruins, beaches, hikes, etc. I suspect if you chose to stay there for a long period of time you’d love the peace and serenity of the place. For 150 minutes, not so much.
Back on the boat we circled some astounding rock/island formations, including some our guide said were “reserved for Princess Diana and Prince Charles.” Why they would want a basalt pillar rising from the sea with no discernible means of egress is beyond me, but the bluish-greenish water surrounding it was lovely. This was actually the highlight of the trip, and something only to be achieved by boat.
When we circled Stromboli, the island, not just the volcano, we saw the immense lava fields, the amazing lava beaches, the tiny hamlets tucked in lava-proof areas. It was all surreal, and smelled like sulfur: very interesting. Landing on the small pier, it was immediately apparent that the beach, which lapped at the piling of the landing area, was the focus here. That and, of course …. the volcano.
We all took our shoes off to dip our sweaty toes into the water, braving the volcanic rocks on the beach and the devilish pebble-sized ones closer to the shore. Ouch. Clear, cool water. Black volcanic sand. Lovely.
Then we decided to brave the area above the beach, which, from the sea looked like one street. It was a few more than that, to be sure, filled with touristy shops and restaurants. At the peak of the town was the inevitable piazza with a church, a view toward the harbor and, conversely, the volcano, and shops. Of note here was a hiking shop – kind of interesting. The town was curious – we passed a grocery with nothing on its shelves, it being almost 6 p.m. and the day’s good having been sold – and interesting. But long before our three hours were up we were at the port eating our arancini de riso (a Sicilian specialty made with risoto, mozzarella cheese, ham and capers, breaded and fried) and waiting for our boat to return for us.
Then we made what was a mostly futile back-and-forth journey around Stromboli-the-island waiting for Stromboli-the-volcano to do something interesting. At one point, and black column of gas arose, and so did our hopes. But sadly, after a little over an hour of this, we gave it up and began the nearly two hour trip back to Sicily mainland. What followed that was an hour and a half bus ride back to Taormina, and a 15 minute walk back to our beds, where we collapsed in sodden, sweaty heaps well after the beginning of the new day.
Was it worth is? Well, Pete would say no. Too much travel for too little benefit. Three hours on boats and buses is not fun.
But as for me, it’s one more unusual place I can say I’ve been. I bought a small pottery bowl in Stromboli. I intend to put it in my office – no idea what I’ll put in it – to remind me: I’ve been another unusual place. It may have been an arduous journey, and undoubtedly it was exhausting, but I did it.
And, once again, we didn’t get eaten by polar bears.